TWENTY-EIGHT years ago, as a young teacher in a Glasgow secondary school, I spent a week on secondment to Coates Paton in Paisley, part of an initiative to bring education and industry closer and offer young people and teachers a chance to learn more about the challenges and opportunities of the business world.
Recently, as chief executive of Scottish Business in the Community, I spent the morning in a Glasgow secondary school where Scottish Secretary of State Donald Dewar and a leading Scottish businessman, David Murray, were grilled by young students on setting up and running a business. It was another innovative and exciting initiative.
Over the 30 years a huge number of challenging schools-industry initiatives and projects have been introduced across Scotland.
No longer is exposure to the world of work seen as an almost optional adjunct to the main activities of schools; something which can be achieved through projects, special programmes or by leaving such activities to external partners. Education for Work is now a central plank of Scottish education policy.
Clear signals have been given and explicit commitments made by ministers to ensure that this issue receives very high priority indeed and that a more coherent and co-ordinated approach is encouraged and supported. The challenge has been thrown down to Scottish business leaders to engage in the debate about how to encourage young people into work and improve employability.
But they have also been challenged to become more actively involved in supporting the education service in achieving this ambitious Education for Work agenda. Early evidence suggests that the Scottish business community is ready and indeed anxious to take up the challenge.
Following a strategic review, Scottish Business in the Community (SBC), whose directors and Council members include most of Scotland's leading companies, has committed itself enthusiastically at national level and locally.
Plans are in hand for more Business Support Groups beyond the present 13 which will encourage local schools in forging links between the business community and the education service.
Nationally, the newly established Centre for Education for Work will have the full support of SBC and its members in a partnership arrangement which will ensure that the business community is fully informed about and understands national and local education policies, procedures and priorities. In turn the education community in Scotland can expect more informed and detailed feedback on the views of the business community.
The recently announced Entrepreneurs in Schools initiative, arising from the newly established Scottish business leaders forum, chaired personally by the Secretary of State Donald Dewar, will develop as part of the overall Education for Work agenda, again supported by SBC.
Individual companies have committed themselves to Education for Work. One leading company has agreed to sponsor national awards for schools which show excellence in preparing young people for the world of work. It has also announced a national award to support the development of core skills in the Higher Still programme.
We now have the opportunity in Scotland to move forward in a spirit of genuine co-operation with all the partners having a clear understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities, and a common goal within a coherent, progressive and harmonious policy framework. That is the significant difference.
* Frank Pignatelli is chief executive of Scottish Business in the Community.